Cars I Have Loved: 1964 VW Beetle

My first car was a 1964 green Volkswagen Beetle. I paid $750 for it which was a lot because, at the time, I was making $85 a week as a secretary. For whatever reason, the transmission failed the same day I bought it after I’d decided that, despite my father’s advice, it wasn’t worth it to have the car checked out by a mechanic first. I can’t remember what it cost to fix the transmission, it being such a nightmarish episode. All I can remember is driving all the way from Grand Ledge back to East Lansing in 2nd gear like a hearse waiting for the procession to catch up.

A VW being what it was at the time, I had to back my sweet little green bug up to my folks’ garage during the winter and put a light bulb on a long cord next to the engine so it would start in the morning. Remember the trunk was in front in a VW and the engine in back. This meant that if a person ran into something, say a tree or another car, the trunk (also known as the hood of the car) would crumple. I learned this by running into another car on a country road late one afternoon. The car had its left turn signal on, but then turned right, which was unfortunate because I was busy passing on the right, which was illegal in Michigan, as the police later told me.

My new boyfriend saw the damage to the hood and fetched his rubber mallet to pound out the dent. My father watched from the living room window, muttering, “he’ll never get that dent out.” He made no move to help or to suggest alternatives, since, as you remember, I’d already failed to take his car advice. He would, as he infrequently but pointedly said, let me stew in my own juices.

Much of the dent got pounded out but a scar remained and so my beloved car, my first purchase as an adult, went from pristine (save its transmission) to dinged up. It was still unbelievably cute and cozy inside and I remember driving country roads singing to songs on the radio – Judy Collins and Otis Redding and the Beatles – smoking Kools lit with the tiny lighter in the dash. I loved the wee ashtray. And I loved the stick shift. The clutch. Shifting. Downshifting. All of it.

When I married the boyfriend who pounded out the hood of my car, he, maybe we, decided that it would make financial sense to sell our two VW Beetles and buy a VW station wagon. He already had a Harley Sportster, so we were vehicle heavy in those early married days, so this shedding of my green VW made sense. Later when our baby was born, we would ride around town at night in our station wagon so she would stop crying and go to sleep. We would chat quietly, very quietly, for obvious reasons and there was no singing.


Photo by Stefan Widua on Unsplash

My VW was as green as this car is red.

5 Comments on “Cars I Have Loved: 1964 VW Beetle

  1. The ’64 Beetle was also my first car, until it lost the transmission. But it served me well, having given me six months of service at my first job after college graduation. Then I bought a ‘brand new ’73 bug which gave me ten years of faithful service until a deer ran me over and crumpled the front end. Our greatest accomplishment, working together as a team, was being stuck in a horrific snow storm. The rear wheels were spinning out. I left her in first gear with spinning wheels, exited the car, pushed her until she regained traction, jumped back in the car and drove onward. I never forgot that she waited for me. Jan, thank you, thank you. Your writing and superb reflections bring back a ton of memories.

  2. … and there was no singing. The line that caught me and evoked questions.

  3. The way my dad would get us to stop crying when we were babies was to pace the floor with us or take us for a ride and sing VERY loud to drown out our cries. It worked. I had a used VW in Ethiopia that I had painted bright yellow. They told me I’d never be able to sell a car that color but within a year there were a dozen bright yellow VWs in Addis Ababa. I’d started a trend!

  4. I’m envious Jan. I always wanted a Beetle. Now I’d love a VW Bus. I would emulate Frances McDormand, living on the road just as she did in Nomadland.

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